Gardening for bumblebees

The arrival of spring heralds the welcome sight of the first bumblebees in our gardens as the queens emerge from hibernation and begin the hunt for a suitable nesting place to lay their eggs.

For me, the sound of bees buzzing from flower to flower is one of the background sounds of a summer’s day but experts are warning that this sound may become more of a faint hum as bee numbers are currently in decline.

Indeed, current estimates suggest that bee numbers in the UK have halved over the last twenty years.

Reasons for the decline would appear to be due to a combination of factors including diseases, pests and pesticides, along with a loss of flower-rich habitats in the countryside.

Albert Einstein is said to have predicted that, “if the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live”.

Whilst this may be something of an exaggeration, it has been estimated that bees are responsible for the pollination of approximately one third of all the food that we eat. Bumblebees, rather than honeybees, do a great deal of this vital task.

Various government bodies and research institutions have agreed to look into why populations are falling, but each of us can also do our bit to help encourage the return of the bees.


How can we help? 

Well it’s not complicated.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust believes that gardens are now the main stronghold for some bumblebee species, with six or seven species being found in almost any garden.  By ensuring that we have the right plants flowering in our gardens throughout the spring and summer, then the numbers and types of bumblebees that our gardens support can be significantly increased.

What are the right plants?  In general, old-fashioned, English cottage garden style plants or native varieties with simple single flowers are best for bees, as they tend to contain more pollen and nectar than exotics or plants with complex blooms.  As an added bonus, these types of plants also tend to be easy to grow, being generally hardy and much more resistant to slugs and disease.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has a wealth of information about what we can do to help our bumblebees.  Further information is available from their website (

Good examples of bee-friendly plants would include rosemary, lungwort, flowering currant, foxgloves, columbines, geraniums, chives, viper’s bugloss, everlasting wallflower, catmint, honeysuckle, cornflower, delphiniums, escallonia, hollyhocks, heathers, lavender, rock-rose, scabious, marjoram and sunflowers.

The Bee kind Tool is handy to score your garden and receive suggestions on plants to make it even more bee-friendly.

Article by A. Waite, Wye Church, Eco-congregation working group, updated with permission


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